Welcome to 2016! This year has got off to a cracking start and I’ve already had the chance to meet some amazing folks. Bring it on.  Wherever I go, I’m asked very similar questions from people seeking advice and ideas to strengthen their leadership skills. So in this post I want to address one of the most common leadership challenges. 

It’s finally happened. You’ve worked hard, delivered your work on time and on budget, you’ve come up with a great initiative or two and now it’s all paid off – you’ve been promoted. But come Monday you’ll be faced with a tricky situation:

How do you manage your former peers and friends?

It’s a very common challenge – and it can be hard, really hard.

It’s especially difficult in Australia where we have a strong culture of mateship and ‘getting along’. But remember respect trumps harmony. It’s always better to address an issue head on, no matter how tricky, than let it slide and fester and build resentment.

The good news is you’ve been recognised for your efforts. The bad news is you’ve been recognised for your efforts, probably over and above those around you. Yep, it’s a double-edged sword. The reaction of your peers will vary too – some of your cohort will be happy for you that you’ve been rewarded, others will be ambivalent, and others may feel resentment particularly if they also applied for the job but missed out.

It is most important to recognise that things have changed;  dramatically, instantaneously and irrevocably.

Your cosy group will never be the same again. As a friend and peer you may have been privy to private information that your manager wasn’t. You may know, for example, that the late afternoon meeting your colleague attends every 2nd Friday isn’t a meeting at all but rather an early pass home. Well. Now it’s your problem to manage.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Address the elephant in the room – things have changed. The power dynamic has shifted and as their leader you now have input to important decisions that have a significant impact on the careers and well-being of your people such as training opportunities, L & D, rewards and incentives, even annual leave. Be sensitive to the new power you yield.
  2. Pull back from social activities and events outside work. I have always had a policy of only attending social functions that my entire team is invited to – Christmas lunch, end-of-year dinner etc. This is to avoid any perception of favouritism. It’s impossible to share movies and dinners and winery tours with one of your staff and have no involvement outside work with the others. It creates an ‘us and them’ situation. However…if you have been life long friends with a colleague and you’re intent on keeping the friendship outside work you need to set some ground rules such as no discussing work or colleagues, be discreet about it and don’t post photos on social media, and remember just because you’re ‘off the clock’ your leadership responsibility isn’t… stay classy.
  3. No Triangles – do not discuss other colleagues (peers, other departments, senior managers and Executives) with your staff. Office gossip among peers is damaging enough but I’ve seen more than one career implode when a new leader decided it was OK to whinge about the Exec team with their own staff. As a leader what you say has extra volume due to your title. It will be taken as ‘given’ and will be repeated. Be warned..
  4. Build a new network of your own peers. Leadership is often lonely and you need to discuss tactics, seek counsel, even vent about frustrating stakeholders. Set up a time to have a coffee with one of your peers and build that relationship. It will keep you sane.
  5. Volunteer to chair an initiative team or project that is company-wide. For example, most organisations have projects dedicated to health, safety, social, engagement or environment outcomes. Taking on a leadership role will build your skills and you will be seen to be a leader on a broader stage.
  6. Ask your current Manager to announce your new position. This spells out your new authority and shows you have the support of management.
  7. Set the tone early by arranging a team meeting to look at the short and long term goals for the team. Seek input from your people and remind them a new leader is always an opportunity for positive change, it’s a great time to discuss your bacon wars and resolve any issues. Also meet with your team one-on-one to discuss their ambitions and any challenges. Then schedule in diaries regular one-on-one catch-ups (2 hours a month is great). This reassures your team that your attention wasn’t just a one-off.

 

A note on the staff member who applied for your job and missed out: if you find someone is testing your authority – coming in late, spending too much time on social media etc – step in immediately with a light touch. Address the issue straight away but do it with respect and humanity. You don’t need to assert your authority, you already have it. If the behaviour persists then you need to call it – but use examples. Use your LADAR (language radar) and avoid words like:always or everyone…Use facts and data.

Spotlight on Excellence

One of the best parts of my job is I get to work with over 100 different organisations every year and I get to see what they do well, and, not so well!  I want to share some of these insights so you too can learn from the best. 

Vanguard is a global investment company built on a low-cost model and is client owned – so all profits are directed to clients with no outside owners. Vanguard very proudly, and very specifically, seeks diversity in its ‘crew’. They believe it’s a competitive advantage. One of the values at Vanguard is: “Welcome debate”. 

They actively seek constructive disagreement and when things go wrong they“Don’t Ask Who – Ask Why? (DAWAW) to search for the root cause.

At the senior levels the team was keen to generate debate in strategy discussions and created “Devil’s Advocacy” sessions in which a senior office identifies a business issue and selects a team of staff to debate opposite sides of the issue. It’s a simple and effective tool to overcome conformity in thinking and is very useful in teams where consensus is valued above robust debate. It also ensures that varied and often conflicting perspectives are factored into decision-making. It’s very effective, try it.